Blood borne pathogens are disease causing microorganisms carried in blood. These pathogens can potentially result in illnesses upon exposure. The preventive measures vary from one type of pathogen to another.
The most common bloodborne pathogens are
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Hepatitis B Virus
Hepatitis B (HBV) is an infectious illness that affects the liver. Studies carried out in 2015 by the world health organisation reveal that 257 million were living with the hepatitis B virus. Among these 887,000 lost their lives to the virus.
Some people with the virus can stay as asymptomatic for long. The common symptoms of hepatitis B include: abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, extreme fatigue, dark urine and jaundice or yellowing of eyes and skin. For a smaller percentage of infected persons, the virus can lead to chronic illnesses such as hepatocellular carcinoma and cirrhosis.
Modes of transmission include:
- It is commonly transmitted from mother to child during child birth.
- Transmission is also through contact with infected blood and body fluids. This cross transmission is common in children below 5years.
- Through unprotected sex with an infected person, which is common in people who have sex with casual sex workers, men having sex with men and persons with multiple sex partners.
- Sharing of items such as injection needles and syringes in health care facilities and persons who inject drugs.
- Piercing or other sharp items contaminated with the virus can also lead to infections such as tattooing and injuries from items containing the virus.
Prevention from Hepatitis B
There is no known cure for Hepatitis B. However, it is preventable through vaccination. Infants receive the vaccine soon after birth to reduce the risk of infection, and other subsequent two to three doses after every four weeks. Expectant mothers infected with the virus, should receive a certain dose to reduce the risk of transmission at delivery. The hepatitis B vaccine is 99 to 100 percent effective in preventing infection. The vaccine is available for all ages.
Prevention from exposure of the hepatitis B virus
Hepatitis B virus can remain on surfaces for seven days. During this period, the virus can cause infections when in contact with open skin or mucous membranes of unvaccinated persons. Certain persons are at an increased risk of exposure. These include persons in constant contact with body fluids and blood, such as health care workers and persons with multiple sex partners. The spread is also possible at places of work. There are various ways through which one can protect themselves from the exposure to hepatitis B virus:
Hand washing with soap and water kills viruses. It is also recommended that one uses hand sanitizers to disinfect their hands regularly when travelling. Another way of preventing yourself from infection is by avoiding touching of the face and eyes which is one of the common ways of transferring pathogens.
The Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
These are items commonly used by medical practitioners to protect themselves from getting in contact with bloodborne pathogens. They include gloves, face shields, gowns, eye protection and pocket masks.
- Latex gloves and gowns help protect the user from exposure to blood and body fluids.
- Eye protection and face shield help the user protect their eyes and mucus membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth from contact with infected blood and body fluids.
- Pocket masks refer to a set of equipment used to protect rescuers from contracting illnesses while performing CPR and rescue breathing (mouth to mouth resuscitation).
Protection during housekeeping practices
When cleaning surfaces, especially those of public places, it is critical to take precaution. Hepatitis B viruses remain on surfaces for long periods of up to seven days. All blood stains are treated as potentially infected. When cleaning surfaces that contain body fluids and blood, wash hands before putting on gloves. Do not use worn out or torn personal protective equipment. Protect yourself from splashing by use of a face shield and gown. Shoe covers and boots should be used where applicable especially when cleaning large floor spills. Disinfection chemicals should always be used especially in health care facilities and toilets.
Hepatitis C (HCV)
Hepatitis C virus results in serious liver infections. The infection can lead to (acute) short or long term (chronic) illnesses depending on the infections. Acute hepatitis C infection occurs within six months of exposure to the virus. If left untreated, the virus results in chronic infections in the form of liver damage, liver cancer and cirrhosis. The symptoms of the disease include: loss of appetite, yellowing of eyes and skin, feeling tired, joint pain, light coloured stool, dark urine, fever, stomach pain and vomiting. The symptoms only occur at the acute stage of the illness. Persons with chronic infection experience fatigue and depression.
Modes of hepatitis C transmission are similar to those of hepatitis B and they include:
- During birth where infected mothers transmit to the child.
- The use of drug injection items by multiple people.
- Having sex with an infected person.
- Health care workers can also contact the virus from patients when proper precautions are not taken into consideration.
- During tattooing and piercing done with non sterilized equipment.
- Sharing of personal items such as toothbrushes, shavers, razors among others.
- During organ transplant and blood transfusion.
The preventive measures for hepatitis C are similar to that of hepatitis B. However, hepatitis C can’t be vaccinated. There are, however, certain drugs that once taken have 95% chances of curing the illness.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The human immunodeficiency virus attacks the CD4 cells that help the body fight infections and causes the body to weaken in its ability to fight infections. The virus can remain in the system without showing symptoms. The symptoms of the disease only start appearing at the AIDS stage. Just like other bloodborne pathogens, transmission is through contact with body fluids: semen, vaginally discharge and blood from infected persons. Most people contract the illness through unprotected sex with infected persons.
Prevention from HIV
Use of Condoms
It is important to treat everyone with suspicion and use condoms when having vaginal and anal sex. The virus is transmitted when the virus carried in semen and vaginal secretions enters the body through the mucus membranes.
Use of PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) to Prevent HIV infection
PrEP is a drug that is used by persons at high risk of contracting HIV to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. The drug lowers the risk of getting HIV from sexual contact by more than 90%. It is recommended that person’s at high risk of infection use PrEP and condoms during anal and vaginal sex. The drugs are safe with least side effects which are less harmless. Some of these side-effects include headache, nausea and loss of appetite. These side effects subside with continued use and should not interfere with the use of the medicine. People who use the drug include sex workers, persons whose partners are infected with the virus and anyone at risk of exposure. Persons who use the PrEP should go for an HIV test every three months. Though minimum, if you are infected with HIV while on PrEP, you should discontinue the use as the drug makes the virus more difficult to contain. The effectiveness of the drug in containing HIV depends on the consistency of use.
The use of PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)
PEP is a drug that prevents the infection of HIV after possible exposure to the virus. For it to be effective, the drug is taken less than 72 hours after possible exposure to the virus. The earlier you start on the drug the more likely it is to work in preventing HIV infection. People using PEP should take precautions to protect their partners by using condoms while having sex.
This drug is recommended for persons who have been sexually assaulted or victims of rape, health providers who might have been exposed to the virus while attending to patients. The drug is not a substitute for HIV containment drugs and should not be used for treatment. It is also important to keep in mind that the PEP is not suitable for person’s in constant exposure to the virus.
Precautions When Taking Care of HIV Victims
Person taking care of HIV patients in and out of hospital should take the following precautions gains possible exposure to the virus:
- Always wear gloves when handling patients and don’t use torn gloves.
- Wash your hands before seeing or attending to patients.
- Wear a gown if you are likely to get splashed on.
Since some bloodborne pathogens have no known cure and others can’t be vaccinated against, it is critical to exercise maximum precautions to protect oneself against possible exposure. Bloodborne Pathogens training provides the necessary skills and knowledge on the prevention of bloodborne pathogens infection. Interested persons can enroll for online bloodborne pathogen certification programs from certified institutions. These programs are readily available and easily accessible to interested persons. There are no minimum qualifications as they are open even for non professionals.
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